PM hints at new diplomatic initiative

Olmert rivals not allowed to speak at Kadima event.

olmert smiles 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert smiles 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel will make a serious effort to bring about a new diplomatic initiative via dialogue with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a closed-door meeting of the Kadima faction on Wednesday at the Knesset. Olmert warned that since the end of the war in Lebanon, many diplomatic initiatives have been raised, in a reference to Arab League and Palestinian Authority plans that call for Israel to return to pre-1967 borders. Kadima officials said Olmert sounded like his predecessor Ariel Sharon, who said he initiated his Gaza Strip disengagement plan due to pressure from the Geneva Initiative and other independent diplomatic maneuvers. "After the war, many ideas and proposals have been raised on the diplomatic process," Olmert said. "The Palestinian problem remains on the agenda, and we must develop processes and create options so the initiative will remain in our hands. In this period, we need to see how to achieve and maintain the momentum necessary for dialogue that will strengthen the atmosphere of international cooperation against terror." In a speech to Kadima activists at the party's inaugural council meeting at Kadima's Petah Tikva headquarters on Wednesday night, Olmert hinted that a new diplomatic effort was in the works. "People want someone who is ready for serious steps that can bring the horizon of negotiations and create hope to reach some kind of diplomatic agreement," Olmert said. "We will search for any path that can bring us to dialogue and hope. We want to find a path that can lead the way to serious talks that can take us many steps forward." A Likud spokesman said in response that Olmert was ready to sacrifice Israel's strategic interests to survive politically. He said the fact that he was ready to take such steps at a time when the PA is controlled by Hamas, proved that Olmert's continued rule was dangerous for Israel. The prime minister referred to Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu when he told the Kadima council that Israel needed a "sane and responsible voice" and not "people who threaten our enemies irresponsibly." The prime minister's rivals in Kadima were prevented from speaking at the event. Former MK Uriel Reichman, who quit the Knesset to protest Olmert not appointing him education minister, said he had wanted to speak about the need for a state commission of inquiry into the war but he was not permitted. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz told reporters that he favored such a commission not because of his rivalry with Olmert but "to restore the public's confidence in the government." Interim Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit was granted the microphone briefly to complain that his recommendations for Kadima's internal court were not accepted. The council approved extending the party's membership drive by six months. Olmert strategist Eyal Arad vowed that the prime minister would register thousands of supporters ahead of a potential leadership race in Kadima. In his speech, Olmert referred to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik as the acting president due to Wednesday's Knesset House Committee decision. "Even in this, Kadima has made history," Olmert said. "For the first time in 60 years of Israeli history, a woman is president of Israel for a period of time and she is a representative of Kadima."